Christchurch Hit With 5.8 Magnitude Earthquake

A number of strong earthquakes struck New Zealand on Friday, causing rubble to tumble off buildings and sending countless people scrambling for cover.

The 5.8-magnitude quake struck Friday afternoon 16 miles north of Christchurch at a depth of 2.5 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quake was followed by a series of sharp aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 5.3 and a depth of just 1.8 miles.

The city of Christchurch is located on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue an alert.

Local news media reported people fleeing in fear as the quake and a series of aftershocks rattled the city, leading to liquefaction and flooding in some suburbs. Liquefaction is caused when shaking loosens the bonds between soil particles, making the ground act as if it were quicksand.

The quakes, which temporarily closed Christchurch International Airport and disrupted communications, were the latest in a series that began over a year ago and have destroyed much of the inner city. Airport officials said they hoped to reopen the airport after checking buildings and other facilities for damage.

Warwick Isaacs, demolitions manager for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority told The Associated Press that most buildings had been evacuated "as an emergency measure."

The area has recorded more than 7,000 earthquakes since a 7.0-magnitude quake rocked the city on Sept. 4, 2010. That quake did not cause any deaths.

The most deadly earthquake in this ongoing series occurred on Feb. 22. The 6.3-magnitude quake killed 181 people and reduced much of the downtown area, including the city's Anglican cathedral, to rubble, while thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed in surrounding residential areas.

The cost of repairing the city has been estimated at $15 billion. Smaller earthquakes have occurred almost daily in Christchurch, but of the 350,000 residents of the city, only a few thousand are reported to have left.